Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Communications Law

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This case arose out of an inquest convened to investigate an incident in which police fatally shot a suspected bank robber after a standoff near Montpelier High School in Vermont. The day after the shooting, the State applied to open the inquest. The same day, the State served a subpoena on WCAX-TV, a station of appellant Gray Television, Inc., requiring that the station produce all of its unedited video recordings of the incident. Appellant moved to quash the subpoena, citing 12 V.S.A. 1615, a statute enacted in 2017 that protected journalists from compelled disclosure of information. At the beginning of the court’s hearing on the motion, the State requested that the proceedings be closed, arguing that inquests were secret, investigatory proceedings. The trial court agreed and excluded the public from the evidentiary portion of the hearing on the State’s motion. On February 16, 2018, following the hearing, the court issued a written decision granting the motion to quash. This was the first court decision interpreting section 1615 since its enactment. On its own initiative, and in light of its ruling excluding the public from the evidentiary portion of the hearing on the State’s motion, the trial court noted, “[i]nasmuch as this is an ongoing inquest this decision shall remain under seal, as shall the entire inquest file, and shall not be available to the public unless and until the inquest has concluded with indictments or informations.” The pivotal question presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review in this case was whether a trial-court order granting a motion to quash a subpoena issued in the context of an inquest was categorically exempt from public disclosure. The Supreme Court held the order was a public record presumptively subject to disclosure under the Rules for Public Access to Court Records, and concluded that there was no basis for sealing the record in this case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s denial of appellant Gray Television, Inc.’s motion to unseal the order. View "In re VSP-TK / 1-16-18 Shooting (Gray Television, Inc., Appellant)" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Garrett Cornelius filed suit alleging invasion of privacy by newspaper, the Chronicle, after newspaper published two articles containing information about him. In a series of orders, the trial court granted newspaper’s motions to strike the claims under the anti-SLAPP statute and awarded newspaper a small fraction of the attorney’s fees it sought. Plaintiff appealed the orders striking his claims, and the newspaper appealed the amount of attorney’s fees. Consolidating the cases for review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the claims were properly stricken under the anti-SLAPP statute, but the court erred in limiting the attorney’s fees award. View "Cornelius v. The Chronicle, Inc." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this appeal concerned whether the Vermont Public Service Board had jurisdiction to regulate interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services provided in Vermont. The Board concluded that fixed VoIP was a "telecommunications service" under Vermont law and Vermont regulation of VoIP was not preempted by federal law because intrastate calls could be separately identified. The Board deferred consideration of what type of regulation to impose to a separate phase of the proceeding. On appeal, Comcast Phone of Vermont, LLC argued that the Board erred in not addressing whether interconnected fixed VoIP was an information service or telecommunications service under federal law because, according to Comcast, VoIP is an information service and therefore any regulation is preempted by federal law. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed that the Board must reach this question and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Investigation into Regulation of Voice Over Internet Protocol" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellee the Rutland Herald appealed a trial court's decision to grant summary judgment to Defendants the Vermont State Police (VSP) and the Office of the Attorney General (collectively the State), and to deny disclosure of records related to a criminal investigation of possession of child pornography by employees of the Criminal Justice Training Council at the Vermont Police Academy. The court concluded that the records sought by the Herald, which included inquest records, were exempt from disclosure as "records dealing with the detection and investigation of crime." The Herald asserted on appeal that a strong policy in favor of public oversight of law enforcement actions should have lead to a different result. It argued that the Legislature could not have intended that records relating to the investigation and detection of crime be confidential forever. The Supreme Court rejected the Herald's arguments, finding the investigatory records were entitled to a blanket exemption under 1 V.S.A. 317(c)(5) and upheld the trial court's decision. View "Rutland Herald v. Vermont State Police" on Justia Law

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Defendant AT&T Mobility, LLC appealed a trial court’s denial of its motion to compel arbitration. AT&T claimed the trial court erred by ruling that AT&T had not been assigned Plaintiff Pike Porter’s cell phone contract before sending him unsolicited text messages and erred in failing to hold an evidentiary hearing on this issue. AT&T also argued that even if Plaintiff's claims arose before AT&T purchased his contract, the trial court erred as a matter of law in holding that AT&T cannot enforce the binding arbitration agreement in Plaintiff's original cell phone contract. The court also noted that the arbitration agreement could not bind Plaintiff "with regard to events between him and AT&T that took place at a time when his only contract was with Unicel, not AT&T." AT&T highlighted four pieces of evidence it submitted along with its motion to amend and reconsider as "undisputed" proof that it purchased Plaintiff's contract in December 2008. Upon review of AT&T's evidence, the Supreme Court concluded the document did not establish that Plaintiff's contract was one of the 100,000 to 150,000 contracts sold, nor did it suggest that "certain Unicel assets" included all of the wireless contracts Unicel held in Vermont. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's decision in favor of Plaintiff. View "Porter v. AT&T Mobility, LLC" on Justia Law